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Good news

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Just when it seems like everything's going to hell in a handbasket (or, these days, south on a Segway), something comes up to give us hope. Maybe I was inspired by a magnificent Memorial Day weekend (knowing, though, there's more to memorialize every day) or the upcoming summer vacation (even for my son in a year-round school); regardless, some of the news lately has felt encouraging. Let's take what we can get.

Nationally, there's the growing recognition of how badly President Bush's domestic and foreign policies have failed, a debate (if not a decision) over ending the war, and the emerging truth in the U.S. attorneys firing scandal (it was political, after all!).

And locally, there have been developments in issues we've raised in the Independent in recent months.

Back on Jan. 17, we warned about the disturbing way the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was becoming "UNC Inc." Former med school Professor John Hammond warned of corporate business priorities replacing public-minded ones, resulting in skyrocketing tuition and a hospital system more interested in improving the bottom line than serving the state's indigent patients. A harbinger of that was a bonus system that paid administrators $2.5 million in 2006, based in part on profitability.

Last week, UNC Health Care System's board eliminated bonuses for its top eight executives and reduced bonuses for 22 other managers. Hammond and other activists had organized a petition drive that got the attention of UNC President Erskine Bowles, and the recommendation to drop the bonuses came from Dr. William Roper, the system's CEO, just six weeks after Bowles recommended that Roper be reappointed the system's chief executive for five more years.

Hammond says it's a partial victory: "I've never been opposed to paying people comparable salaries," he says. "What I've been opposed to is a bonus system that's a disincentive to treat the poor."

In this week's News column, you'll find heartening news on several issues being addressed by the General Assembly. In health care, there are bills to create a high-risk insurance pool to help the seriously ill and to require that insurance companies provide "mental health parity." We're moving closer to same-day voter registration and expanded use of publicly financed political campaigns. Domestic violence protections are being strengthened; there's still a chance juvenile court jurisdiction will be raised to age 18; and the gate is still open for the entire Dorothea Dix hospital grounds to become a 306-acre park. And in our cover story, "Water worlds," you'll find lots of ways to have fun and cool off this summer—some of them in Eno River State Park, the subject of our Jan. 31 cover story, "Eno puzzler."

All of which is a reminder that with a signature on a petition, a phone call to a legislator, or just a jump in the lake, we can make our own good news.

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